Peggy St. Jacques

Headshot of Peggy St. Jacques, 2022 winner of a Sloan Research Fellowship in psychological science

Unlocking the mysteries of real-world memories

How exactly does the brain form memories of real-world experiences? That’s a question Peggy St. Jacques is working to answer, now with the support of a 2022 Sloan Fellowship.

“I’m looking at memories for real world events, at how the brain supports how we form these real-world episodic memories,” the University of Alberta psychology professor explains. “We know quite a lot about how the brain supports how we remember those experiences, but we can’t actually interrogate what’s happening in the brain when people are outside in the real world. However, now with developments in technology, we can actually bring the real world into the lab.”

Making that happen is the focus of Dr. St. Jacques’ Sloan Fellowship-supported research. Her team is producing 360-degree videos of real-world events in order to create immersive virtual reality environments.

“Our lab is using an MRI-compatible virtual reality headset that will present the videos in 3D and create an immersive experience… So people will have a first-person perspective on this event, as if they’re in the real world, but they’ll be in the MRI.”,” she says. “We’re looking at the neural activity in their brain, as they’re experiencing these events, and then we can assess their how they’re forming memories for those experiences.”

Impairments in real world memories are at the heart of disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, she says, “but we really don’t know how the brain is supporting the formation of those experiences. I’m hoping that the basic understanding that we might gain could inform those types of impairments and other disorders of related to real world memories such as PTSD.”

Dr. St. Jacques says she is honoured to receive “such a prestigious award” as the Sloan Fellowship. Funding from the award will support hiring personnel for the lab and MRI costs.

Learn more about the Sloan Research Fellowship

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